The usefulness of the angry Twitter mob is one that bears occasional reexamination.
Over the weekend, a Twitter flare-up erupted after Yahoo News posted a story about President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa. In its opening sentence, the story by White House reporter Rachel Rose Hartman explained that the trip wouldn’t include a visit to Kenya, which Hartman referred to as “the country of his birth.”
Yahoo later issued a correction, changing the term to “ancestral homeland” but not before several news sites picked up the error and ran with it. Some like the Huffington Post posted a pre-correction screenshot of the article.
Given the rampant conspiracy theories regarding Obama’s citizenship -- a debacle that prompted the president to publicly reveal his long-form birth certificate in 2011 -- it’s not surprising that the error would attract its share of controversy. But the sheer amount of social media furor hurled in Hartman’s direction is notable nonetheless.
Following the article’s publication on Friday, a barrage of Twitter users posted angry tweets at Hartman. Most seemed certain that such a blatant display of factual inaccuracy could not be a simple mistake -- this despite the fact that Hartman herself has written in the past about the racial undertones of the so-called Birther debate. None of that mattered on Twitter, where the torch-and-pitchfork crowd labeled Hartman a Birther and called on Yahoo to fire her. Others were even less kind, using words like “bigot,” “disgrace,” “moron,” “incredibly stupid,” “shamelessly ignorant” and worse.
The tweets continued in that vein throughout much of the weekend.
â€” TheObamaDiary.com (@TheObamaDiary) June 21, 2013
@rachelrhartman You should be fired for making the Birther reference to the President of the U.S.
— Martin D. (@mrhandyman3105) June 23, 2013
— Plant-Based Lawyer (@JamesIckes) June 23, 2013
— Mike Ridey (@mridey) June 22, 2013
— Damkina (@damkina) June 22, 2013
Throughout the ordeal, very few tweeters came to Hartman’s defense. One exception was a fellow journalist, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, who gave Hartman the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that the sentence in question was a simple copy error.
— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) June 21, 2013
But that suggestion, too, was met with hostility.
— Eric Fretheim (@ericthefredd) June 22, 2013
Then there were those whose tweets were difficult to discern. For instance, it’s not clear if this person was being sarcastic, although his profile calling for Obama’s impeachment suggests he was not:
@rachelrhartman It took a lot of guts to come out with the truth regarding Obama. I hope nothing bad happens to you. I admire your courage
— Ed Norris (@tinmaned) June 22, 2013
According to the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, Yahoo said it does not plan to comment beyond the correction. Hartman herself has not personally addressed the error. Her Twitter feed had stayed dormant for two days following the flare-up. On Monday morning, she began tweeting again on unrelated topics.
That might be the best strategy given the short shelf-life of the typical Twitter flare-up, which often dies down as quickly as the next one begins. She may still be forced to address the issue, if it turns out the controversy has legs. But a number of angry tweeters have already moved on to “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory, who is under fire for asking Glenn Greenwald on Sunday why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime for aiding and abetting NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Meanwhile, as of Monday afternoon, tweets directed at Hartman have largely subsided, although some Twitter users are still taking her to task for not responding to the controversy.
— allanbrauer (@allanbrauer) June 24, 2013
Yahoo News is owned by Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO).